Jakob von Uexküll
Jakob Johann von Uexküll was born
in Keblaste (now Mihkli), Estonia, in September 8, 1864, and died on the
island of Capri in July 25, 1944.
He studied zoology in the University of Tartu (then Dorpat), Estonia, in 1884-89.
After this, he
worked at the Institute of Physiology of the University of Heidelberg (in
the group of Wilhelm Kühne (1837-1900), who was the editor-in-chief of
the leading European biological journal Zeitschrift für Biologie, and the
author of the notion enzyme), and at the Zoological Station in Naples.
In 1907 he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Heidelberg
for his studies in the field of muscular physiology. One of his results of
these years became known as Uexküll's law, which
is probably one of the first formulations of the principle
of negative feedback occurring inside an organism.
His later work was
devoted to the problem of how living beings subjectively perceive their
environment and how this perception determines their behaviour. In the book
Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere (1909) he introduced the term Umwelt to
denote the subjective world of organism. This is the notion according to
which Uexkull is most frequently cited in the contemporary literature. Uexküll developed
a specific method which he termed 'Umwelt-research'. In 1926 Uexküll founded
the Institut für Umweltforschung at the University of Hamburg.
Between 1927 and 1939, Uexküll spent his summers with his family at Puhtu
peninsula (western coast of Estonia) in his summer cottage (since 1949, this
is Puhtu Biological Station of the
Institute of Zoology and Botany, Tartu, Estonia).
Uexküll's field of research was the behaviour of living organisms and their
interaction as cells and organs in the body or as subjects within families,
groups, and communities. He is recognised as one of the founders of
behavioural physiology and ethology, and a forerunner of biocybernetics.
Of particular interest to Uexküll was
the fact that signs and meanings are of prime importance in all aspects of life
processes. His concept of functional circle (Funktionskreis) can be
interpreted as a general model of sign processes (semiosis).
Uexküll considered himself a follower of Johannes Müller (1801-1858) and Karl
Ernst von Baer (1792-1876). His philosophical views were based on the works
Uexküll wrote one of the first monographs on theoretical biology
(Theoretische Biologie, 1920, 1928). The
fields in which his work made a remarkable contribution include the
comparative physiology of invertebrates, comparative psychology, philosophy
He is recognised as the founder of biosemiotics (Bedeutungslehre,
Publications by J.v.Uexküll
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